Articles & analyses

Alain Gresh writes in Le Monde Diplomatique: ‘The authority of the Future Movement among Sunnis has been questioned since “Saad Hariri was incapable of organising the Sunni community or defending it, let alone building the institutions of state,” according to Mohamed Baydoun, a former Amal minister who is now with the government. There are fears that Sunnis, especially those in the north and in Tripoli, will turn to Salafist groups, or even to al-Qaida, which has been extending its reach in Lebanon in the past two years. It was after all, Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaida’s second in command, who recently proclaimed that Lebanon would be pivotal in the struggle against “the Crusaders and the Jews.”’
The Christians stayed on the sidelines of the recent fighting. Alain Aoun, an adviser to General Aoun, believes their reaction to the recent events has been ambivalent: “On one hand, they were worried about the use of force, but on the other they were pleased about the alliance between the FPM and Hezbollah, which guaranteed peace in the Christian districts of Beirut and in the mountains.”

Hussein Agha and Robert Malley in the New York Times: ‘The Gaza deal is being brokered by Egypt. Qatar mediated the Lebanese accord. Turkey is shepherding the Israeli-Syrian contacts. All three countries are close allies of the United States. Under normal circumstances, they would be loath to act on vital regional matters without America’s consent. Yet in these cases they seem to have ignored Washington’s preferences. The negotiations either involved parties with whom the United States refuses to talk, initiated a process the United States opposes or produced an outcome harmful to its preferred local allies. The region is in a mess, and Washington’s allies know it. They privately blame the United States and have given up waiting for the Bush administration to offer them a way out. By acting as they did, Egypt, Qatar and Turkey gave the true measure of America’s dwindling credibility and leverage after American debacles in Iraq, the Palestinian territories and Lebanon. They are willing to take matters into their own hands and overlook American ambivalence about their doing so. Intent on isolating its foes, the United States has instead ended up marginalizing itself. In one case after another, the Bush administration has wagered on the losing party or on a lost cause.”’

Rami Khoury again: The strength and status of Hizbullah and the weakness of the Lebanese state are symbiotic developments that feed off each other, and can only be resolved together. The coming era of calm political adjustment in Lebanon — including the national unity government and the Spring 2009 parliamentary elections — must address the very difficult core disputed issues. The central one is the Hizbullah-state relationship, which is directly or indirectly linked to other tough issues such as Syrian-Lebanese ties, and the role of external powers such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. If Lebanon does not make progress on these issues in the coming few years and instead falls back into a pattern of stalemate and street fighting, a second civil war is likely, and no country I know of has survived two civil wars and remained intact. A resumption of fighting on a large scale will see the country slip into a slow and steady pattern of dysfunctional statehood and patchwork sovereignty, somewhere between the Yemen and Somalia models. The challenge remains to construct a state built on equal citizenship rights in which all Lebanese have the opportunity to improve their quality of life in the context of the rule of law, rather than tribal or communal self-defense. The manner in which the parties at Doha haggled over electoral districts in Beirut and other parts of the country suggests that the concepts of the Lebanese state and citizens’ rights remain subsidiary to the more powerful forces of sectarianism and tribalism that define both the affirmation of identity and the exercise of power. This is not unique to Lebanon. Most of the Middle East suffers the same problem, but elsewhere it is camouflaged beneath the stultifying calm of the modern Arab security state.’

Sic semper tyrannis publishes a report of a visit by a group of Harvard political science students to various political leaders in Syria and Lebanon. The entire piece is well worth reading for its matter-of-fact but knowledgeable descriptions of how the personalities come across, but the part about their meeting with Walid Junblatt is especially hilarious (and close to the bone): ‘After our return to Lebanon we met with Walid Jumblatt, who frankly appeared to be somewhat in pieces. In addition to a generally stoned demeanor, he gave answers which ranged from completely inscrutable to impolitically frank to obviously evasive. I tried hard to pin him down on the issue of the impact of US domestic politics on his ‘bets’ in Lebanon. After interrupting him about four times, steering him back to the issue from long lectures about nothing in particular, I asked him “do you think the US will trade Lebanon? [to Iran and Syria]” and got what I think was an honest “I don’t know.” He pushed what I find an implausible conspiracy theory of Syrian involvement in the death of Mughniyeh. His old dog lay loyally -or listlessly- at his feet the whole time. He said that Nasrallah and Hezbollah are fascist organizations and drew tired comparisons to 1930s Germany. His position towards the opposition was uncompromising, though I personally wouldn’t be surprised to see him back as a Hezbollah ally in a few years if the US does not continue its strategy of confrontation in the Middle East. He was very pessimistic overall, though it was not clear if this was due to the broader strategic situation or the very humiliating defeat he had recently been handed by Hezbollah.’
And this is the writer’s impression of a talk with Geagea: ‘Samir Geagea, the head of the Lebanese Forces and a key figure in the March 14th coalition, was the first person we met. The extent to which his discourse mirrored that of the most extreme elements in the Bush administration surprised me. His talk was full of references to the Global War on Terror, Good versus Evil, Light versus Darkness, and such. After about 20 minutes of somewhat unproductive Q&A (we had not yet learned the art of simply interrupting longwinded and off-topic answers) he veered off into a discussion of his spirituality, which seemed genuine if bizarre, talking about how he “lives in the second dimension”. I suppose he did spend 11 years in solitary confinement. None of the LF people were happy about Doha and they seemed to be looking forward to the day it would fail.’

And finally, a rare article focussing on Hizbullah’s deputy leader, Naim Qassim: ‘At the signing ceremony of one of his books, Qasim thanked his wife for her support, something that raised eyebrows within religious establishments as uncommon for a turbaned cleric. Qasim commented on the matter saying that “I support the rights of women” claiming that women’s rights are a must in proper Islam. He adds, “She [in reference to women] is not a slave. She is not only there for delivering children. She is a human being in every sense of the word. She has full rights” (…). In his own words, his wife is “educated and intellectual,” proudly saying that she used to lecture on various matters and was very active in public life but had to limit her public activities in order to raise their children.’

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